Uma Debate

December 27, 2013
Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya, India

In the main shrine hall of Tergar Monastery, a large chair with a curving back covered in luminous white silk has been placed in front of the Buddha. His Holiness the Karmapa has taken his seat there to witness and participate in today’s debates on the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) view. The participants are senior monks and teachers from various monasteries, who have formed two groups, one of the defenders, seated behind a row of ornately painted tables, and the other of the questioners, who are gathered behind a standing microphone about fifteen feet away. Displayed on two screens flanking the Karmapa are digital clocks, counting down the split seconds of the fifty minutes for this debate.

The debate is unhesitating, animated, and vigorous. In the midst of the intense exchanges, the Karmapa listens with complete attention, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a critical look. He raises his arms out, stopping the debate to challenge and clarify. The usual protocol of great deference is not in place as the debaters come back with forceful replies. The Karmapa and his disciples are responding to each other as monks have throughout centuries, with the full involvement of body, speech, and mind.

The topics of the debate cover key points of the Middle Way view. Is an instance of the definitive meaning, the actual ultimate or the nominal ultimate? How does the meaning of the actual and nominal ultimate shift in the three instances of no analysis, slight analysis, and thorough analysis? How do we know what is the correct view of Middle Way? Can we define it as that which leads to the realization of emptiness? What is the true difference between the empty of self (rangtong) and the empty of other view (zhentong)? Responding to this, the Karmapa suggested that the empty of other view works within the framework of the presence and absence of something while the empty of self view works within the framework of being and not being something. The questions are key and invoke the depths of the philosophical heritage of the lineage.

When the buzzer brings the end of the fifty minutes, the Karmapa is still debating. His attendants and security come to give him his shoes and move away the table from in front of him, but he moves it back so he can slap it with his hand to make a point and continues to talk for a while. Long after it’s over, the liveliness of the debate reverberates through the air. 

Anniversary of Dusum Khyenpa

5 December 2013 – Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya

On the anniversary of the parinirvana of the great First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa led several special celebratory events in the holy place of Bodhgaya.

After continuing the scheduled Kagyu Gunchö program in the morning, in the afternoon the Gyalwang Karmapa gave a detailed teaching on the sacred spiritual biography or namthar of Dusum Khyenpa, followed in the evening by a special Feast Offering Puja.

The great master known as Dusum Khyenpa, or ‘the knower of the three times’, was renowned for his ability to clearly see the past, present and future. He was the wellspring of the Karma Kamtsang lineage, and the first in the string of lives of the seventeen Karmapas, following one after another like beads on a mala.

Teaching to a gompa packed full with monks, nuns and a growing crowd of international students, the Gyalwang Karmapa began by observing that only recently have people begun to give greater importance to the anniversary of Dusum Khyenpa’s passing. “In the tantras it is said that we should pay attention to special dates and the special moments in great masters’ lives,” he began, “because our positive actions on these days are multiplied many times and we can accumulate great merit.”

He then explained that great masters of the past have said that their core instructions are actually their spiritual biographies. “When masters would tell their life stories it’s not just their words or teachings, but their own lived experience of putting the dharma into practice. Their life stories are living instructions,” he said. “Therefore Dusum Khyenpa’s biography is something to keep in your heart.”

The Gyalwang Karmapa described how, long before his eventual birth, Dusum Khyenpa’s coming was predicted in many sutras and tantras, such as the Samadhiraja Sutra. His life-story is filled with miraculous feats of spiritual accomplishment and signs of his high degree of realization, beginning right from when he was still in his mother’s womb.

“One day his pregnant mother Lhathok was working in the fields when she heard a voice from her belly, saying, ‘Please go home, I’m going to take birth soon’,” the Gyalwang Karmapa related. “Hearing that voice she went home very quickly to give birth to Dusum Khyenpa. Those fields are still there in Tibet today, called the ‘fields where a voice came from’.”

The Gyalwang Karmapa then told how as a child Dusum Khyenpa became famous for other miraculous feats such as creating springs, leaving handprints and footprints in many boulders, subduing a demon at the age of 8, and making rain fall during a very dry summer at the age of 9. At the age of 11 Dusum Khyenpa was able to pacify conflict throughout the region using extraordinary tantric means. It was at the age of 16 when Dusum Khyenpa ordained as a novice monk that he first came to possess the famous black crown that is now synonymous with the Karmapas.

“In the historical accounts, at that time Dusum Khyenpa had a pure vision in which 100,000 dakinis appeared and placed the black crown on his head,” the Gyalwang Karmapa explained. “Together they empowered him as the ‘doer of the activities of all the Buddhas’, and gave him the name Karmapa. In some of the biographies it’s said that all those who were present even saw this vision.”

The Gyalwang Karmapa also commented that according to some historical sources, the black crown symbolizes the inseparability of Dusum Khyenpa and the great Indian Mahasiddha Saraha.

The Gyalwang Karmapa then related how throughout his life Dusum Khyenpa was known by a series of different names, including Khampa Usay, or ‘the yellow-haired Khampa’.

“Since he was a child he was blond,” the Gyalwang Karmapa said, “and his face was just like the face of a monkey.” He told the story of how in a previous life Dusum Khyenpa had insulted a monk, telling him his face looked like a monkey. With this one act, the Gyalwang Karmapa explained, he created the karma to be reborn with monkey features himself for many lifetimes, and Dusum Khyenpa was the last of these monkey-faced lives.

Throughout his long life Dusum Khyenpa spent many years meditating in remote caves, under the guidance of his root guru Gampopa, and attained many signs of realization. He also founded the three monasteries which became his main seats in Tibet, Kampo Nenang, Karma, and Tsurphu.

“It was due to the power of Dusum Khyenpa’s strong prayers and aspirations that the Karma Kamtsang lineage first appeared,” the Gyalwang Karmapa told those gathered—a lineage which flourishes to this day, over 900 years on.

After completing his detailed two-hour teaching on Dusum Khyenpa’s spiritual biography, around 7pm the gompa once again started to fill as the crowd assembled for a special ‘Dusum Khyenpa Feast Offering’ puja. By 7.30pm the gompa was full, with people spilling out onto the surrounding balconies in the cool early winter night, all eager to take part.

The Gyalwang Karmapa first offered three prostrations before an exquisite thangka of Dusum Khyenpa surrounded by the Kagyu lineage masters. He then took his seat on a throne facing the elaborate altar, filled with precious offering substances and tormas.

On the anniversary of Dusum Khyenpa’s parinirvana those gathered were gifted with the rare treat of the Seventeenth Karmapa personally leading a two-and-a-half hour puja as Umze or Chantmaster. The Gyalwang Karmapa’s voice rose and fell with the melodies, carrying the blessings of the Karmapa lineage, and became a bridge that momentarily connected all those present with the mindstream of Dusum Khyenpa.

Under the spell of the transformative power of his presence, the puja became imbued with an extra layer of the sacred, and as the Gyalwang Karmapa personally led hundreds of monks, nuns and laypeople through the chants the blessings of all seventeen Karmapa incarnations rained down.

17th Kagyu Gunchoe Begins – Gyalwang Karmapa Teaches Daily During The Annual Winter Debates

3 December, 2013 – Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya.

The 17th Kagyu Gunchoe – Winter Debates began this year on December 3rd  at Tergar Monastery in Bodhgaya, India. The daily schedule includes debates during the morning and in the afternoon, the Karmapa’s teaching on a text by the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, called The One Hundred Short Instructions. Throughout his presentation, the Karmapa emphasized the importance of balancing study with practice, of tempering intellectual pursuit with realization arising from experience. In the Tibetan tradition, debating is an integral part of intellectual and experiential training. Its purpose is to probe an individual’s knowledge of Dharma, to remove doubts, and to elucidate what is not clear. Debating helps to ensure that understanding does not stay at the level of words, but goes deeper into the meaning. It also allows a great number of topics to be explored in a short time and to be retained more easily.

From 3rd December the Gyalwang Karmapa will teach daily during the 17th  Kagyu Gunchoe Debates at Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya. Over this three-week period he will continue the remaining teaching and reading transmission on a text by the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, called One Hundred Short Instructions (Tri-thung Gyatsa), which was not finish at 16th Kagyu Gunchoe.

The Gyalwang Karmapa taught primarily to an audience of Tulkus and Khenpos and monks participating in the winter debates, however, simultaneous translations into Chinese were offered, and many international students also attended. The number of international students grew day by day, until the gompa quickly reached capacity.

The Eighth Karmapa’s text One Hundred Short Instructions is divided into chapters covering a broad range of topics, arranged according to the path the dharma practitioner traverses. Commencing with the ‘Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Towards the Dharma’, the Gyalwang Karmapa emphasized the preciousness of our human life, as well as the need for renunciation from worldly concerns.

Nine shedras are present for this year’s Winter Debates. In the afternoon and evening, additional debate sessions took place in the Monlam Pavilion, so day and night the sound of challenging voices and clapping hands could be heard. And the monks continued to discuss matters as they circumambulated the shrine hall and walked back and forth to their rooms or meals.